“It has to be illegal. I don’t see how they can claim 15-40 metres from the top of the bank,” pleads resident Kurtis Kril in the latest complaint to The NEWS about logging along the Englishman River in Errington.
“This appears quite obviously contrary to their claims.”
Kril is the fifth person to contact The NEWS directly, and the third to send photos from the river looking up at the newly exposed sky above the steep bank.
One local MLA has a different view of the situation than the logging company.
“There are natural gaps in forest cover,” said Domenico Iannidinardo, TimberWest’s VP Sustainability and Chief Forester. “It might appear from the other side of the river that we harvested to make that hole, but it’s actually just a natural gap in the canopy.”
Iannidinardo said they are following all regulations, mostly covered in the B.C. Private Managed Forest Land Act (PMFLA). He said a number of agencies can inspect and audit their work including the ministries of environment and forests, federal fisheries department, WorkSafe and health authorities interested in drinking water. The regulations prohibit cutting within 15 to 40 metres from the top of the river bank, he said, the distance determined by site-specific conditions like bank stability and the type of waterway below.
“What we do is reverse engineer what buffers are required, based on the potential for damage to the river,” he said.
Monica Bailey, TimberWest’s Director of Communications and Engagement, previously said: “Beyond meeting all applicable federal and provincial regulations, we took additional precautions around the riverside by adding a reserve area of at least 15 meters, together with an additional buffer zone of up to 25 meters.”
The company harvested approximately 70 hectares (173 acres) of second generation forest in the area and said it will re-plant in 2017.
The area’s MLA Scott Fraser said he’s received a lot of calls about it.
“This (provincial) Liberal government has created two-tiered rules for forestry on Vancouver Island. In 2004 they introduced the PMFLA and those rules are far less comprehensive and much weaker than within our public tree farm licences and with much weaker oversight.”
The Regional District of Nanaimo, for example, requires a minimum 30-metre buffer along watercourses and in 2009 the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a City of Parksville resolution asking the government to review regulations and adopt stricter rules.
“The most concerning part is, embedded in the act is a section that exempts these private forest companies from adhering to any rules from local government (municipalities, regional districts),” Fraser said. “Those rules, which apply to all property owners, simply are null and void when it comes to private managed forest companies.”
“This of course is particularly problematic when you consider that it is local governments that are legally responsible for providing safe drinking water, yet they are forbidden by this act, from controlling what these companies are doing in their watersheds.”
He said publicly available documents show the large forest companies have donated “hundreds of thousands of dollars” the the B.C. Liberals and “the perception is that these rules benefit the companies more than the people they’re supposed to be protecting.”
MLA Michelle Stilwell said she was familiar with the logging and that the area has been harvested before and will be replanted.
“TimberWest is doing what they need to to ensure they protect key values and ensuring things such as fish habitat, water quality and wildlife habitat,” she said, adding TimberWest is following provincial and federal regulations and the Englishman River Water Service carefully monitors water quality.
“TimberWest also has professional biologists and external geoscientists that help them in their managment of the land,” she said. “They’re retaining a riparian reserve area of at least 15 metres and adding an additional buffer zone of up to 25 metres along the river.”
Stilwell said it made sense that individuals have stronger guidelines than forestry companies because the companies have “professionals… who are guiding them in the science behind it.”
Concerned residents suggest people contact local MLAs with any concerns.